Education catch-up commissioner quit after 'feeble' £1.4bn offered for schools recovery

Sir Kevan Collins, who he asked for £15bn, says funding "just wasn't enough to deliver the kind of recovery we need"
Photo: Andrew Nash/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Alain Tolhurst

29 Jun 2021

Sir Kevan Collins, who was tasked by Boris Johnson to devise an education recovery plan, has confirmed he quit after asking for £15bn so pupils could catch up on lost learning from the pandemic, but was offered just £1.4bn.

Collins said the government’s proposal “just wasn't enough to deliver the kind of recovery we need”, and strongly criticised their decision to wait until the spending review in the autumn to consider further funding.

“If the argument is strong enough why wouldn’t you do it now? This is an investment, this isn’t an argument about spending,” he told MPs on the education select committee.

Appearing before the committee this morning, he said compared to other countries the current plan, which represents an extra £50 per pupil per year “quite frankly is a bit feeble.”

In May, The Times reported that Collins's proposals to support children whose education had been disrupted by the pandemic would cost £15bn. Collins resigned shortly after the government said it would put forward £1.4bn to pay for the plans.

At this morning's hearing, Collins confirmed the £15bn figure.

"I was very disappointed obviously that I had to resign. The proposal that came forward, as I said in my article and in my letter to the prime minister, just wasn't enough to deliver the kind of recovery we need."

Collins criticised the government for not delivering on the scale for recovery he felt he had been commissioned to devise. 

"I was given a very ambitious but very exciting exam question by the prime minister, which was to recover every child in this parliament," Collins continued. 

"And I set about examining the evidence and the approaches that will allow us to deliver that ambition.”

Collins said his plans were built around three notions; investing more in school teaching, providing one-to-one tutoring, and extending the school day – a policy that was rejected by the government.

But when the government only put forward a fraction of the funding Collins believed would be required for such proposals, he felt his position was untenable and chose to step down. 

“The quantum was so different from the amount I though we needed deliver the exam question I was asked, it was impossible for me not to step back at that point," he explained. 

While Collins said he was pleased some of his ideas will be implemented, he insisted a "significant greater investment" was still needed to support children whose education had been distrupted.

He also welcomed Johnson's pledge to invest more at a later date, but pressed the urgency of the matter.

“We can’t wait," he told MPs. 

“I know there are these processes known as the spending review that are in a government’s cycle, but i’m more obsessed with the education cycle.

"We need to start from September, I wanted to hit the ground running this September because children can’t afford another year.

Collins said he wanted to be the education recovery commissioner who complained the government was spending too much on pupils, rather than calling for more funding. 

“I’d rather be that side of this wrong, instead of this side of which is that we’ve underestimated and underinvested in the lives of our children,” he said. 

In his evidence to the committee Collins repeatedly said more money is needed to help the most disadvantaged children, who have suffered the biggest impact on their learning from coronavirus.

"The growing education inequality could be the legacy of Covid if we're not very careful,” he said.

“We have to intentionally and directly intervene, support the children with the greatest need.

"Every child we have obligations to after Covid and that's why I think the longer time would have supported every child, particularly with the non-academic outcomes, with the wellbeing and social stuff.

"But when it comes to the academic loss, I think it's clear that we're going to see greater loss for our children who have greatest need."

Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.

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